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Is Buying Dollars for Frequent Flier Miles Unethical?

United States
by Richard Stupart Jul 14, 2011
Buying things with your credit card to earn frequent flier miles is a common travel hack. Exploiting a loophole in US currency legislation to buy dollar coins, earn flyer rewards, and then deposit them to clear the debt on the card seems like genius. But when you start buying anywhere from $40,000 to $600,000, it starts to look like exploitation of the system.

IN AN ATTEMPT to make dollar coins more widely circulated, the US mint allows for direct purchases of dollar coins by members of the public. Yet, as NPR reports, the scheme has become a boon for people wanting to earn frequent flyer miles on their credit cards. Simply buy some coins from the mint off your credit card, to get the frequent flyer miles, then redeposit the coins back at your bank to clear the balance on the card. Genius.

So genius, in fact, that the US mint has had to curb grotesque levels of coin buying which in some cases exceeded $400,000.

Even if you don’t have a credit card that could lay down seven figures on boxes of dollar coins (or the truck to carry them back to the bank), at some point you really need to ask yourself whether the whole practice might be a little unethical. In the first instance, is it OK generally to exploit a loophole like this for free miles?

The credit card companies who end up footing the bill for those benefiting the scheme to travel overseas may not be America’s favourite corporate citizens, but does that make the practice acceptable? And even if you have no qualms wasting the government’s time and resources to deliver you a few thousand dollars in coins, what about a few tens of thousands? Or hundreds of thousands?

How far would you be prepared to go to make your next overseas trip as cheap as possible?

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